THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - June 8, 2018

Jun 11, 2018

In this issue:

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House passes U.S. Workforce Act

The U.S. House passed the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act by voice vote on Tuesday. Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah and I managed the bill, H.R. 5956, which we introduced just 12 days earlier. (See the floor video here.) The Chairman laid out the economic rationale for the Workforce Act. I emphasized the new protections making sure that no U.S. worker is passed over for a job because of cheap, foreign labor and that the Commonwealth government makes good use of the training fees that employers pay. I also used my time to thank Bishop and the rest of the bipartisan, bicameral working group that helped put together the policy that will guide the Marianas for the next 10 years. And I acknowledged the help we had from constituents, who shared their experiences and ideas in the many listening sessions I held, as the bill was in development. The broad support from Marianas elected officials, business, and the public at large demonstrates that everyone’s interests are well represented in the U.S. Workforce Act. The bill is now with the Senate, which already passed virtually identical legislation in April.

Vets clinic study signed into law

Marianas veterans, who are not registered for VA health benefits, need to do so now. On Wednesday, President Trump signed the VA MISSION Act, which requires a feasibility study for a veterans’ health clinic in the Marianas. I put Section 213 into the legislation to advance the goal of getting our own Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. We are the only Pacific jurisdiction without a C-BOC. But, for the study to prove a need, we need every veteran to be counted. The more vets we have signed up with the VA, the more likely the study will justify the cost of building a clinic and hiring full-time VA medical staff to provide services. The VA now has 180 days to complete the study. Once done—and assuming we get the result we want—then funding will be at the top of my to-do list, when the next Congress begins in January 2019. Getting a favorable feasibility study is the same strategy we used successfully to expand the AAFES troop store on Saipan.

Facing the Medicaid “cliff”

The extra $109 million the Marianas got from Obamacare keeps our hospital open and provides Medicaid to over 14,000 people who cannot afford private insurance. But the Obamacare money expires in 2019; and Medicaid faces a cliff: we will go from as much as $20 million annually to just $6 million. Wednesday, I asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar what he plans to do (see video). We cannot expect the Republican Congress to add money to Obamacare. But preparing for Democratic control of the House next year, I have included equal Medicaid treatment for the Marianas in the Health Equity and Accountability Act. The Democratic Tri-Caucus, of which I am a member, introduced our bill last month.

More United flights needed

United needs more than one flight daily between Saipan and Guam to replace the five daily flights that Cape Air used to offer. That is the gist of my letter to United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz this week. United began service on June 1. I also pointed out the inconvenient timing for connecting passengers. The new United flight from Saipan arrives on Guam at 9:30 a.m., three hours after the flight from Guam to Honolulu departs. So passengers are stranded for 21 hours. Similarly, passengers from Honolulu arrive at 6 p.m. in Guam and have to wait overnight for 13 hours before they can connect for Saipan the next morning. Adding more flights or adjusting the schedule are two remedies I suggested. I also asked the United CEO to think about service to Rota, which neither Cape Air nor United now serves.

$3.9M for Rota airport fencing

The Benjamin Taisacan Manglona International Airport in Rota is receiving $3,884,903. The money will replace 20,500 feet of perimeter fencing, a requirement to maintain Rota’s Airport Operating Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. And the money is a boost for Rota’s economy. Shipping the materials to Rota, hiring workers, sales of food, gas, electricity—it all adds up and helps create jobs and business activity on Rota. Even though flight services to Rota are being cut, it is important to maintain the Rota airport in good operating condition, so certification remains current and Rota continues to have the welcome mat out for visitors. The award includes $1,160,724 in entitlement funding and $2,724,179 in discretionary funds. Congratulations to Rota and the Commonwealth Ports Authority.

Green funding parity bill passes

Legislation I cosponsored with an annual $5.5 million increase in environmental grants for the Marianas was reported for a floor vote by the Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday. H.R. 5875 gives us funding parity with the states under the Pittman-Robertson and Johnson-Dingell Acts. The money comes from federal excise taxes on hunting equipment, boats, and other recreational equipment. Right now the Marianas gets about $2.5 million per year. Parity with even the smallest states would increase that to $8 million.

DeVos must look at guns in schools

All 17 Democrats on the Education and the Workforce Committee sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday, in reaction to her statement that guns would not be considered by the newly formed Federal Commission on School Safety. We do not understand how the Commission, which DeVos chairs, can ignore the role of guns. It is supposed to recommend policies and funding proposals to prevent school violence. Guns are clearly part of the equation. An Investigation by the Washington Post found ten school shootings yearly since the Columbine massacre in 1999. Fox News reported 16 school shootings in the last year alone. Surely, the Commission needs to study these incidents in developing policy recommendations for Congress to keep our students safe.

$2.1M more for Soudelor recovery

Federal funding to aid the Marianas in long-term recovery from Typhoon Soudelor continues with a grant of $2,126,487 announced on Tuesday. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides the money directly to the Commonwealth government, which then distributes it to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. The funds are a reimbursement of what CUC has already spent to pay for the repairs to Power Plants 1, 2, and 4. The federal funding represents 90 percent of the total cost. The Commonwealth is responsible for the remaining 10 percent. Soudelor recovery assistance from FEMA has totaled over $37 million for public infrastructure and $25 million to individuals and households, since the typhoon hit in August 2015. Congress provides the funding pursuant to Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Act.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comment:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 5956 - Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3997 - Free Veterans from Fees Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5895 - H.R. 5895 — Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019 (Passed, 235-179)
  • H.R. 8 - Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (Passed, 408-2)
  • Senate Amendment to H.R. 3249 - Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act of 2018 (Passed, 394-13)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 5996 - Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2018
  • H.R. 1651 - National Nurse Act of 2017
  • H.Res. 401 - Urging China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, India, and all nations to outlaw the dog and cat meat trade and to enforce existing laws against the trade.

NEXT WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 5735 - Transitional Housing for Recovery in Viable Environments Demonstration Program Act 
  • H.R. 2851 - Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017
  • H.R. 5788 - Securing the International Mail Against Opioids Act of 2018

Committee Activity

  • Wednesday, June 13Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “The Power of Charter Schools: Promoting Opportunity for America’s Students”
  • Committee on Natural Resources Legislative Markup